Q. What does N.A.S.A stand for?
A. It’s N.S.A. You’re thinking of astronauts.
Q. How do you know what I’m thinking?
A. Well, ironically, that’s what the NSA is all about.
Q. So what is the NSA? Why is it in the news?
A. Seriously? Do you live on Mars?
Q. Tralfamador. Come on, shoot the poop, gimme the scoop.
A. The best way to explain the National Security Agency is through the metaphor of The John Doe saloon.
Q. I’ve been there. The food was awful.
A. It’s not real. It’s a pretend place in a metaphor. We’re pretending that the United States is a place called the John Doe saloon.
Q. The salad bar was okay except for the anchovies.
A. So, in the United States we have a president—that would be John Doe. We have an Attorney General—the bartender. We have the FBI—the bouncer at the door.
Q. They looked like stepped on worms that had been pried off a sidewalk.
A. The Supreme Court is in the kitchen–the chief justice being the head chef. The news media is played stereotypically by the drunk at the bar. The patrons in the saloon are everyday citizens. Of course, we also have that element representing chaos, uncertainty, and the tendency to track mud into a room.
A. No. The bluegrass band playing at the back of the saloon.
Q. I want a table down there.
A. We need one other element to complete our metaphor. Any guesses?
Q. Has to be Congress.
A. Close. In the metaphor, Congress is represented by the rest rooms. Their role is to flush John Doe’s plan for just about anything, but especially for keeping everyone in the saloon safe.
Q. Do they ever come out of the restrooms?
A. Only for re-election campaigns and press conferences where they call people names or apologize for calling people names by calling them different names. Or to say they’re proud they called somebody a name and now that they think of it, they wouldn’t apologize in a million years. Then they say Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in doo doo. What’s still missing is a way John Doe can guarantee his patrons’ safety.
Q. In case Frankie comes in and shoots Johnnie?
A. No, the bouncer handles that. John Doe needs to find out which patrons are up to no good.
Q. Everybody in a saloon is up to no good.
A. Not everyday no good. I’m talking Holy Guacamole no good.
Q. Something in a Class I felony?
A. Think terrorists. How can John Doe tell who may be plotting a nefarious deed and who is just there to unwind?
Q. Start with the banjo player. They’re always wound pretty tight.
A. Remember, the saloon is the United States of America. We don’t discriminate against people because of the ridiculous instrument they play.
Q. Then how the heck do we discriminate?
A. The point is, we don’t discriminate against anyone. We discriminate against everyone. It’s the only fair way.
Q. Brilliant. But how?
A. Here’s a clue. What does every saloon have on its walls every ten feet or so?
A. Flat screen TV’s. And here is the role in our metaphor played by NSA.
Q. They’re the exterminators?
A. No. The NSA operates the satellite feed and special two-way TVs. A perfect way to poke into our privacy.
Q. That’s bad, right?
A. If anyone else did it, yes. But the NSA does it for one reason only: to root out terrorists. That’s it. Nothing else. Nada. If you’re not a terrorist you have no worries. Unless, of course, you say something you shouldn’t say.
Q. Like ‘I wonder if that woman is wearing underwear?’
A. I mean like “I wish the American flag had a little more red in it.” Or “Let’s change the fourth of July to the fifth of July.”
Q. Who decides what’s right and what’s wrong to say?
A. Usually Congress and the Supreme Court. But they can’t hear anything over the sound of flushing toilets and the espresso machine. So it defaults to the boss of NSA who is the head waiter at the John Doe saloon. His waiters have multiple opportunities to eavesdrop and spy.
Q. So who could object to a system as, um, as sort of fair as that?
A. Some people in the saloon feel that being spied on violates their right to privacy. In fact they point to a large stone block outside the saloon. Back in 1776, the original owners chiseled a list of 10 ideas we can’t live without in a democracy.
Q. I’d have the bouncer blow up the rock
A. John Doe and the waiters wouldn’t let him.
Q. Hmm. How about getting John Doe to fire the waiters.
A. The head chef would close down the kitchen.
Q. Wow. Sounds like we’re on the horns of a limo. Maybe burn the place down? Make it look like an accident?
A. You can’t destroy the United States to save it.
Q. How about this. You send the bluegrass band into the restroom and they play “The Wreck of the Old ‘97” nonstop. Congress will come stumbling out of there in 48 seconds.
A. Would never work. Congress is The Wreck of the Old ’97.
Q. Maybe get a different metaphor?
A. We have one option. The bartender unplugs the TVs, and the drunk staggers into the rest room groaning loudly like he might be sick.
Q. Oooh. And he clears the room. That’s just sick enough to work. But how do you get rid of the waiters?
A. Easy. John Doe posts a “No tipping” policy.
Attention: This report is classified Really, Really Secret so Shutup and may be read only by people with a Really Really security classification. If you do not have such clearance and you have already read this, please present yourself at the Leavenworth federal penitentiary at your earliest convenience. Bring a toothbrush and a 144 month calendar.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.